Tag Archives: social democratic alliance

Iceland’s Pirate Party stands to gain from Panama Papers mess

Birgitta Jonsdottir is the leader of the Pirate Party, which now leads polls in Iceland. (Facebook)
Birgitta Jónsdóttir is the leader of the Pirate Party, which now leads polls in Iceland. (Facebook)

In a normal environment, elections would be due in Iceland only in April 2017.Iceland Flag Icon

But after its prime minster, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, suddenly resigned on Tuesday the small Nordic country could be headed to snap elections. If so, the beneficiary is likely to be the new Píratar (the Pirate Party), a protest movement rooted in the values of direct democracy and transparency, that would, if elected, grant Edward Snowden Icelandic citizenship.

It’s a relatively new party formed in 2012 by Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a former Wikileaks official and social activist first elected as an MP in 2009 from the Citizen’s Movement that emerged out of the ashes of Iceland’s banking crisis and reelected as one of three Pirate MPs in 2013. The party is a motley protest group of hacktivists, anarchists and other outsiders. Staunchly in favor of greater privacy for individuals and more transparency in government, the Pirates want to reduce the working week to 35 hours and liberalize drug legislation.

The weekend’s ‘Panama Papers’ leak revealed that the Icelandic prime minister and his wife owned an offshore company, Wintris, with over $4 million in assets. More damning, the company is a creditor to all three Icelandic banks that collapsed in 2008 and 2009. Previously undisclosed, the company’s existence (and its stake in Iceland’s failed banks) amounts to an unpardonable conflict of interest, given the role that Gunnlaugsson’s government has played in sorting out the post-collapse claims from remaining creditors against those three banks. Gunnlaugsson, who took steps to transfer the interest in the offshore company to his wife, never publicly acknowledged that Wintris was, in fact, one of those creditors, even as he campaigned on negotiating a hard line against those creditors.

Gunnlaugsson came to power after the April 2013 elections, in which his economically liberal Framsóknarflokkurinn (Progressive Party) narrowly trailed the more established, center-right Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (Independence Party), ushering out a left-wing government elected in the aftermath of Iceland’s banking collapse. Continue reading Iceland’s Pirate Party stands to gain from Panama Papers mess

Iceland ends its short-lived quest to join the European Union

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It should have come as no surprise to observers of Iceland, but its new center-right government has firmly closed the door to membership in the European Union anytime soon, with an announcement from Icelandic foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson (pictured above, left) last week.Iceland Flag IconEuropean_Union

It was virtually certain that Iceland would take a step back from EU membership, given that both governing parties — the Framsóknarflokkurinn (Progressive Party) and the Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (Independence Party) — campaigned against EU membership in Iceland’s April parliamentary elections.

Former social democratic prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir launched membership talks with the European Union in July 2009, when Iceland was still reeling from the effects of a financial crisis that bankrupted its three major banks and left Iceland in economic meltdown.  In the immediate aftermath of the September 2008 crisis, some Icelanders even seriously considered joining the euro after the Icelandic krónur tanked in value.  As Iceland’s economy has recovered to some degree, despite difficult loan burdens and continued currency controls, and as the eurozone has come to appear more like a monetary straitjacket than an economic life raft, Icelandic voters have increasingly soured on the benefits of EU membership.

Though prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s Progressive Party was seen as originally more open to continuing the talks, Gunnlaugsson seems to have taken aboard the more hardline views of the Independence Party — no one quite expected the government to end negotiations with such resolute finality in only its first month in office.

So while Iceland will continue to be a part of Europe, it will do so, like Norway and Switzerland, outside of a formal membership of the European Union.

As I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the election, however, the line between membership and Iceland’s current status is not as bright as you might expect: Continue reading Iceland ends its short-lived quest to join the European Union

Gunnlaugsson now unexpectedly in line to form Icelandic government

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Despite the fact that Iceland’s long-ruling Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (Independence Party) won about 2% more in voter support in Saturday’s parliamentary elections, it looks like Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the leader of the second-place Framsóknarflokkurinn (Progressive Party), will have the first shot at forming a government.Iceland Flag Icon

That’s because both parties ultimately won 19 seats each in the Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, and Iceland’s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, surprisingly decided to give Gunnlaugsson the first shot at forming the next Icelandic government.

The decision shines a spotlight on the fact that in many countries, the head of state has quite an influential role in determining who will be the next head of government — in this case, it seems like Gunnlaugsson will nonetheless be on track to become the next prime minister, not the leader of the Independence Party, Bjarni Benediktsson.

It makes some intuitive sense — the Progressives have by far the most momentum, having garnered nearly an additional 10% of the vote in the 2013 election, and although the Independence Party won the vote in Reykjavík and the small southwestern region of Iceland surrounding Reykjavík, the Progressives won more votes in all of the other regions of the country (though they are more sparsely populated).

Although all signals from both Gunnlaugsson and Benediktsson are that they’ll form a center-right coalition, one possibility that I hadn’t considered is that Gunnlaugsson might join forces with other parties, leaving the Independence Party outside of government.

That seems unlikely, of course, but it’s an avenue that’s more open to the Progressives than the Independence Party, given that the Progressives can make a marginally better argument that they represent a rupture from both the Independence Party that dominated Icelandic government in the decades prior to 2009 and the more recent government led by Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and the Samfylkingin (Social Democratic Alliance) and their coalition partners, the Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð (Left-Green Movement).

Mathematically, a government needs 32 seats for a majority in the 63-member Alþingi.

Conceivably, and this is now in the realm of pure speculation, that means that Gunnlaugsson could team up with the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement for a 35-seat majority, though that seems nearly suicidal, given that the two parties suffered the heaviest losses in the recent election.  It seems even more unlikely given the Social Democratic Alliance’s support for joining the European Union, a position that both the Independence Party and the Progressives — and even the Left-Green Movement — oppose.

But another path might include a Progressive-led government that draws on support from the anti-EU membership Left-Green Movement and the most successful of the two newest parties in the Alþingi, Björt framtíð (Bright Future) — that would bring exactly 32 seats.  Bright Future was founded both by former Social Democrats and Progressives, which means that, despite its pro-EU membership views, Bright Future could be an easier coalition partner for the Progressives.

What’s clear is that, for now, Gunnlaugsson would appear to have the greatest number of options, including several novel paths to a government that could shake up Icelandic politics more than we thought even over the weekend.

Final Icelandic election results

althingiJust a quick post to note the final results of Saturday’s Icelandic parliamentary elections.Iceland Flag Icon

As expected, the center-right will return to power, with the top two parties, the Framsóknarflokkurinn (Progressive Party) and the Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (Independence Party) widely expected to form a governing coalition, thereby returning to power in as wide a swing in Saturday’s election as the swing against them in the April 2009 elections.

Although both parties will hold 19 seats each in the 63-member Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, the Independence Party’s leader Bjarni Benediktsson will likely become prime minister instead of the Progressive Party’s Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, though that’s far from clear, even today, with both leaders discussing options to form a government with Iceland’s president.

Until last week, Gunnlaugsson seemed very likely to become prime minister, riding a wave of popularity over his party’s stance in opposition to reimbursing the British, Dutch and other governments that, in turn, reimbursed non-Icelandic citizens who lost their savings when IceSave collapsed along with Iceland’s entire banking system.  Only a couple of weeks ago, Benediktsson was facing a coup attempt within the Independence Party over his own leadership.  As the campaign closed, however, the Independence Party made up much of its lost ground, though they have finished just 3% higher than their historical low of 23.7% in the 2009 election and the Progressives jumped 9.6% from the previous election:

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The Independence Party, in particular, has long dominated Icelandic politics since independence from Denmark in 1944, and it was in charge of running the country in the decades leading up to the 2008 banking crisis — its leaders at the time, prime minister Geir Haarde and former prime minister and Icelandic central bank president Davíð Oddsson were widely blamed at the time for the collapse and for establishing the conditions that led to the collapse.

The government which followed, led by Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and the Samfylkingin (Social Democratic Alliance), in alliance with the Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð (Left-Green Movement), represented the first government since the 1950s not dominated by the Independence Party.  While it leaves office with, I think, a fairly strong record of having strengthened women’s right, returned Iceland’s economy to GDP growth and massively lowered unemployment to under 5%, Icelandic voters remain relatively strained, even five years after the crisis.  GDP growth has returned thanks only to capital controls and the massive devaluation of the krónur, inflation has erased much of those gains for typical Icelandic households, many of which struggle under debt loads denominated in foreign currencies.

Sigurðardóttir’s government also probably suffered considerably for spending too much time on a push for a new Icelandic (‘crowd-sourced’) constitution and on bringing Iceland into the European Union, a project that is now likely to fall apart.  On Saturday, the Social Democratic Alliance lost 16.9% and the Left-Green Movement lost 10.8% from their 2009 result — it means that the Left-Green lost 50% of its 2009 support and the Social Democrats lost about 57% of its 2009 support.

Iceland’s election spells the end for its EU accession hopes

(110) Tides pushes out at Vik

With capital controls still in place, a massively devalued krónur and galloping inflation, Iceland’s economy is not back to normal.European_Union Iceland Flag Icon

But it’s enough back to normal so that the window for Iceland’s accession to the European Union — or even, as was assumed during the worst days of its 2008 banking crisis, accession to the eurozone — is now very unlikely to happen.

Regardless of whether Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and the Framsóknarflokkurinn (Progressive Party) or Bjarni Benediktsson and the Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (Independence Party) come out on top in Saturday’s election, they are likely to form a center-right coalition that will look to reverse many of the initiatives of the social democratic / leftist government of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir over the past four years.

Above all, none of the Sigurðardóttir government’s priorities is more endangered than the project of Iceland’s EU accession.  Most news stories note that both a Progressive-led or Independence-led government would slow accession talks, but it seems likelier that Iceland’s next government would essentially end the talks indefinitely — they might not formally withdraw Iceland’s EU application, but they certainly won’t take any action to further discussions.

While Gunnlaugsson has called for a referendum on the eventual result of talks, his party  virtually alone among Iceland’s parties argues that the country should not reimburse the British, Dutch and other governments who reimbursed non-Icelandic depositors who put their savings in Icesave prior to its collapse in 2008.  Benediktsson is hardly any more pro-Europe — he’s argued that Iceland should break off talks altogether and focus on deeper global ties, such as Iceland’s recent free trade agreement with the People’s Republic of China — the first such free trade pact between a Chinese and a European country, likely due to Chinese eagerness to enhance its role in the Arctic north.

If for some reason a Progressive/Independence government does complete the accession talks, the result would be put to a referendum of Icelandic voters who remain highly skeptical of Brussels’s pernicious influence.

Sigurðardóttir’s government formally applied for membership in July 2009 and negotiations began a year later, but with her party likely to return to opposition, the window for Iceland’s EU membership seems likely to end with her government, as Alda Sigmundsdóttir writes today in The Guardian:

So, what makes the Progressive party so popular?

They are vehemently opposed to joining the European Union…. Indeed, many of the Progressives’ policies and declarations lean precipitously towards a new nationalism, with mildly xenophobic stances on issues such as immigration and asylum seekers, and party symbols that are vaguely reminiscent of fascism. The Progressive party was also the party that was most fiercely opposed to Iceland repaying the UK and Holland for the failure of the Icesave online bank.

If [Gunnlaugsson] wins, it will be because Icelanders fear abuse and exploitation by outside forces more than they do a return to the corrupt days of old.

Those are some fairly strong accusations, but I have to wonder if Icelandic voters aren’t simply being rational with respect to EU accession — they already have the benefits of free movement of goods and free borders with Europe, as well as much of the legal harmonization that typically comes with membership and a robust economic relationship with Europe that developed without Icelandic membership.  Why formalize the deal when they already have so many of the benefits of membership without any potential for considerable drawbacks that could harm Iceland’s cherished (and highly protected) fishing industry or the fierce national pride of a uniquely compelling nation that won its own independence from Denmark in 1944? Continue reading Iceland’s election spells the end for its EU accession hopes